Monday Article #15: Cultured Meat - The "Sustainability' of Future Meat.
- Did you know that 2500 Gallons of water are needed to produce 1 pound of beef? -
What is cultured meat?
Cultured meat is meat grown in a lab, that aims to produce the same texture and flavour as
conventional meat. It is 100% real meat grown in a lab which is different from vegan meat. It
is also known as “clean meat” because of the lesser potential contamination caused during
slaughter. Risk of infectious intestinal pathogens such as E. coli, Salmonella or Campylobacter
can be significantly reduced as the meat is grown in a controlled, sterile environment. Antibiotics and vaccinations of livestock may not be needed anymore. Cultured meat can be a healthier and safer choice of meat by controlling the nutritional composition of it such as the ratio between saturated fatty acids and polyunsaturated fatty acids and reducing the risk of antibiotic resistance in livestock that may affect our health after consumption.
The aim of cultured meat
The Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) has predicted that 70% more food will be
needed to fulfil the demand of the growing population.The first lab-grown hamburger was presented by Mark Post at a press conference in 2013. His objective is to make the food production industry more sustainable with cultured meat. Since then, his first cultured meat burger that had cost 200 grand in 2013 has reduced to around nine euros per burger in 2019. His aim to reduce the environmental impact caused by the production of conventional meat and growing meat without the need to slaughter
animals to feed the population gained support from both environmental and animal-rights
How is it grown?
Stem cells are first extracted from the muscle tissues or the embryo of a live animal through
biopsy. The cells will then start to divide during proliferation phase (first step) to more than
one trillion cells.The second step includes cells differentiating and merging together to form myotubes, which are no longer than 0.3mm and multiplying up to more than a trillion strands to form skeletal
muscle tissue. It is then attached to scaffold to increase its size by mechanically stretching it. The whole
process takes place in a cultured medium which is known to contain Fetal Bovine Serum
(FBS) that provides all the essential nutrients, hormones and growth factors for the cells. It is
grown in a bioreactor to control all the environmental factors that replicates an animal
The “sustainability” of cultured meat
A controversy from a statement made by Hanna Tuomisto of Oxford University’s
Wildlife Conservation Research unit who led the research stated that “Cultured meat
would generate 78-96 per cent lower greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, 7-45
percent less energy to produce, 99 percent lower land use and 82-96 percent lower
water use, depending on what type of meat.” It is true that livestock, mainly ruminant are responsible for the majority of methane (CH4) emission in the world which is 28 times more powerful of trapping heat than carbon dioxide (CO2) other than nitrous oxide (N2O). Cultured meat seems to be the
only solution to this environmental problem since it releases CO2 only due to fossil
energy needed to warm the cultured cells.
However, recent studies shows that it may not be sustainable for the long term.
Carbon dioxide absorbs less heat energy per molecule than other greenhouse gases
but it accumulates in the atmosphere for a longer period of time and it is responsible
for about two-thirds of the total energy imbalance that is causing the Earth’s
temperature to rise.
The figure below shows warming impact for beef cattle and cultured meat production
which was initially at very high rates then followed by a decline to zero after 1,000
years. It can be observed that CH4 and N2O rise significantly at first with increasing
production but then decline drastically and stabilise to a new, lower level for Brazilian
beef cattle systems. In contrast, cultured systems that emit most of the CO2 persist
indefinitely in the atmosphere, showing no sign of decrease or equilibrium.
The best medium to grow cultured meat is also known as the Fetal Bovine Serum (FBS).
FBS is the blood of a dead calve from the womb of slaughtered dairy cow. A normal
procedure of collection is cardiac puncture, where a needle is inserted into the heart to avoid
possible contamination from micro-organism. Throughout this process, the fetus is not given
any anaesthetics for up to 5 minutes. This procedure has already defeated the purpose of
being a “slaughter-free” meat and replace conventional meat products.
The price of FBS has been increasing, up to $1000 per litre of FBS, which costs around
$50,000 to culture one pound of meat. The “sustainability” of cultured meat can be
questioned, such as how do we produce it on an industrial level and how do we replace it
with cheaper plant-based ingredients.
To obtain a piece of meat that took years for an animal to produce, anabolic sex hormones is
used during proliferation to stimulate protein synthesis in cells. The ban of growth hormones
in Europe was confirmed in 2003 by directive 2003/74 and validated by the European Food
Safety Authority (EFSA) in 2007. Studies have shown that overexposure to it can impact our
Large scale energy decarbonisation of energy generation may be able to improve the
sustainability of cultured meat since emissions from cultured meat are primarily from energy
use. A more affordable and environmentally friendly cultured medium may help to reduce the
numbers of slaughtered animals much more significantly. Colour, flavour, nutritional
composition, structure and texture of cultured meat are still under research.
Frontiers: The Myth of Cultured Meat: A Review
Frontiers: Climate Impacts of Cultured Meat and Beef Cattle
EMBOpress: The eco-friendly burger
Cowspiracy: The facts
Eco-business: Cultured Meat? This could create more problems than it solves
Climate Change: Atmospheric Carbon Dioxide
This article on Cultured Meat Sustainability was prepared by: Joo Jet Yen